Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Publication (delayed announcement)

Believe it or not, after all of my time in agricultural research and outreach work, from USDA conferences in D.C., to animal well-being research at two universities, research into teaching methods for undergraduate writing courses and dairy cattle methane mitigating diets, this is the first true manuscript with me as an author. FINALLY! I feel like I have been waiting years for this event, even though years ago I didn't realize that I would be research pig growth in alternative production systems for my Master's degree. I know that over the years I have interacted with a lot of different viewpoints on the issue of animal care, animal production systems and the myth of organic production, so I am anticipating commentary on the article and am willing to answer most questions that don't violate the confidentiality of the remaining data we might yet publish in a second paper.

So for those of you waiting, follow the link to PubMed. For the rest of you, I kept the post short so it didn't waste your time.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Antibiotics and Politics

Well, I promised I would weigh back in when the moment struck and struck it has. My Facebook blew up this morning with the loud proclamations from more- and less- educated peers on the topic of Antibiotics. Most of them are just on megaphone repeat over the claims of an esteemed doctor that the banning of antibiotics would result in catastrophe for the livestock production world and that the people and media are out to ruin our livestock industry. Being one who believes in the "invisible hand" and "natural selection", if the people and media actually wanted to take out the livestock industry, they can go for it. That road only leads to nutrition deficiencies, asymptotic food costs, and eventually the realization that we need to take some steps backwards. But I really don't think that's what they're after more than some accountability and the reprieve of some of their fears. I'm not going to waste time getting offended over it. Fear is hard to control, and rational discussion or brash arguments are not going to help it. Just listen.

But I do want to address some statements and conspiracy claims made in the article, starting with the usage of antibiotics in the United States. Dr. Raymond is of the opinion that we use far less antibiotics than reported in livestock production. I'm pretty sure he's wrong, especially given the statistics out there, and I'll provide an example from my swine research. Per the most recent NAHMS survey, swine farmers reported usage of antibiotics by over 90%. But before you overreact, that isn't 90% of animals, that is 90% of farms using antibiotics on 1 or more animals. Out of that whole group, we're talking about 37% that actually use antibiotics for growth promotion or preventative medicine. This is a far smaller number, and this is what Raymond is trying to point out in the article. However, what he refuses to adhere to is that weight is the only method by which we can quantify antibiotic usage. He does a good job pointing out that ionophores comprise a significant amount of that weight and are not really a good idea for usage in the human. Further, human medicine involves dosage treatments of smaller creatures, and the animal population is far in excess of the human population in the United States. I think Raymond's point about the proportion of antibiotic usage in humans versus animals could have better been made if he accentuated that there is a greater percentage of human usage of antibiotics, so while doses are larger and less frequent in a larger population, resulting in more antibiotic usage in animals (which he dodges around), the treatment usage is far greater in humans.

He is also right in pointing out that early antibiotic resistance is not attributable to animals. We used antibiotics in humans first and started seeing antibiotic resistance soon after. This also occurred when we started using antibiotics for animals in the 50's. THIS IS NATURAL. Consider for a moment that microorganisms produce antibiotics to kill each other. But they're not all dead yet, and this is because they long ago possessed the ability to resist antibiotics from their competitors. We increased the dose and were pretty good at treating most infections, but we didn't create these antibiotic resistance problems. They were already coded in the genetics for the bacteria. The problem is that we have perpetuated this issue by less judicious usage of antibiotics - the focus of the FDA. By using antibiotics appropriately and only when needed for prevention on health risk farms and for treatment with sick animals, we can reduce our usage and be more strategic in our attacks on the bugs. When we widely distribute antibiotics we are not actually sure if we are preventing disease or not, we could just be wasting money. I would prefer to see farms consulting with their veterinarians for prevention strategies when necessary, and treatment plans which use the correct antibiotics for the correct afflictions.

Contrary to Raymond's claim, the antibiotic issue is not "new" and is not part of a media scheme to handicap America's animal-based food producers. All we're talking about here is that people think more about where they use antibiotics and where they don't. That is pretty reasonable to me.

The issue of human antibiotic resistance is an entirely different ballgame to me, and not linked to whether or not we should limit our use of antibiotics in animals. Do I believe that reducing animal antibiotic usage will decrease antibiotic resistance seen in hospitals and human medicine? Absolutely not. I refer you to the efforts of Europeans over the past 20 years to eliminate animal antibiotic usage and the lack of efficacy observed within human medicine. Instead, the human medicine problem reflects back on doctors who prescribe medicine thoughtless. It falls on the minute clinics that hand out antibiotics for viral infections and then can't figure out why ineffective abuse of antibiotics results in allergies and resistance later. It lies in the hands of the parent who calls in for drugs from the doctor without a visit, on the nurse and doctor who comply based on a patient relationship, and on the parent or child who keep old antibiotics and use them injudiciously down the road. The blame lies with the desire of a culture to take a pill, gel, paste, powder, syrup or injection to fix ANYTHING! There is no antidote for stupid recklessness, and no regulation of animal antibiotics can take away decades of negligence.

Friday, January 4, 2013


I think it's fair to say that 2012 was a pretty quiet year overall. I haven't forgotten about this blog, but I have had far less inflammatory issues to talk about and I've been too busy doing agricultural work to take time to tell you about it. Sure, lots of things happened, but they weren't enough to get me all fired up. No huge legislative issues passed through, besides Strickland's emergency passage of exotic animal regulations in Ohio. I learned not to get all fired up about the little stuff and I was too busy doing the big stuff to sit down and tell you little pieces and parts of my research.

For the specifics of my new PhD work and personal life, I've started a new blog. My master's is now complete and I will be sure to share the publications with you as they come out, but for now you will have to wait on the results. I will only say that the research did not show what we expected, but it was surprising in ways not anticipated. I am for one just glad to be done.

I hope that everyone who reads this had a great 2012, and I will be sure to check in every now and again. Don't worry - I will be back when the time calls - maybe as early as the final passage of the long-anticipated farm bill. If only congress could learn to get something done.

Friday, October 14, 2011

HSUS finances even less...

... of animal shelters than ever before. HumaneWatch is both my best friend this week and minorly ticking me off. I posted a comment on their blog about the most recent IRS report they discussed, and instead of putting my full, non-offensive comment on their page, they edited it down. Of course, editing it for just space purposes would make sense, but they left plenty of long, useless comments on there. Instead, they edited mine and changed the words to say something different. Shame on you, HumaneWatch, and yet I'm not sure I expected anything different. They obviously have a very strong, agenda driven organization so they want to keep a strong grip on what's going on their site to make sure it doesn't hurt their progress towards an end goal. Fight one evil with a lesser of the two, I guess.

General trends to highlight: 1) HSUS increased executive compensation including their head honcho who'll take home plenty of potential spay/neuter donations gathered from emotional extortion with sad puppy pictures on TV. 2) HSUS decreased contribution to shelters. You would think that if they were being called out for not contributing to shelters, they might increase it to dismay the naysayers, but not so. They must have something up their sleeve because they don't seem concerned about the IRS at all. 3) Fundraising increased - props (if you want to call them that) to HSUS for squeezing ever increasing numbers of dollars from ever poorer by sympathetic and misguided people.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Humane Misconceptions

My third blog this week will merely consist of my commentary on a blog I saw late last week. I've been meaning to write about and address this blog, but there is so much in the body of it that I know I will never have time. Instead, here are some notes I made in my comment. Honestly, I appreciated the author's comments about misnomers and false claims within the recently budding humane market. But he still missed on so many points.


"I have to say that you made a good compilation of all the propaganda out there on factory farming, mixed with some accurate facts. Especially accurate in my own opinion is your criticism of organic as a falsely humane production method. Also very accurate is the plight of "cage-free" hens which is a poorer condition for them than the original "battery cages". If "cage-free" was better, then HSUS wouldn't have just signed a deal with UEP for enhanced cages in family groups rather than "cage-free" systems. However, the list of misconceptions in your post is surprising given how much research it appears you conducted into these matters.

"I'll highlight just a few glaring misconceptions.

"1) Chipotle is a skilled advertiser and marketer and they are killing profits in a tough economic environment. They do that by advertising humanely raised product and then by only sourcing a percentage of their food from these sites. Look into it.

"2) Don't you find it ironic that EatWild.com will cite every single article that mentions health benefits of components of animal products, but in the same webpage fails to cite any articles that flaunt these increased CLAs in pasture or increased omega-3s in pasture? If they could link proof, wouldn't they have?

"3) The dairy cow is one of the most pampered creatures in farming today. They do not reside in feedlots, and instead each have a mattress for resting in well-ventilated and twice daily cleaned barns. They have a personal "doctor" (veterinarian) who inspects them regularly and the slightest discomfort to them during the day or undetected illness results in huge drops in production. By no means are they housed similarly to beef cattle, which are bred to be hardier - the only similarity between the two is the care and observation given to both throughout the day.

"4) Pigs and chickens are naturally cannibalistic. True, this behavior can be accentuated through close quarters, but this behavior is equally observed in pastured pigs and chickens as well. However, under less close observation by caretakers, the infections and death from this cannibalism can be worse in pasture-type systems.

"5) Pigs are housed in highly climate-controlled barns because they are not naturally inclined to reside in the cold and drafty outdoor environment. They are thus healthier inside in these scientifically proven and specialized barns than are their outdoor, lean-to-sheltered counterparts.

"I'm not saying that a market driven compromise isn't possible or a good thing to aim for. Welfare of animals is definitely new in the 10,000 year scheme of animal domestication, but it's important to not advocate for systems or products which are deceiving. Some systems you supported are equally detrimental or worse for animals in different ways than the systems you so harshly criticized.

"Food for thought."

Meatless Mondays

Before I get started, I had a link from Feedstuffs Foodlink about the addition in a lot of groceries of tags to help better explain important nutrition info. How long ago was it that we last had simplistic nutrition facts listed as "all you needed to know?". Then we decided over the years that we needed more and more details to fully develop exactly what diet was perfect? But here we are again talking about highlighting the important facts to better assist consumers. If we hadn't confused people in the first place with a flood of information, then we wouldn't need to simplify it now. I'm not saying all the details on a label aren't important - they are - but I think that those details became an inaccurate marketing ploy by food processing companies to sell health foods.

I could just link you to this article and end it the meatless Monday conversation at that, but I won't. Read the article; if you aren't satisfied then that this is a stupid idea, then you can read on through my post. Otherwise, don't waste your time because mine is just a rant on an old topic.

When I was at MSU, Gov. Granholm introduced the Meatless Monday for Michigan, encouraged by animal rights activists into believing that this would help the environment and the animals and would balance her appearance to the general public. But supporting the crazies who have no regard for property rights and little tolerance for education and truth about what happens on livestock farms turned out to raise a lot more stink than she expected, especially since she also spent so much time building up the local food produced in Michigan (meat included) and then encouraged people not to eat it for one day a week.

There's nothing actually wrong with eating meat every day of the week. From a health perspective, meat products provide highly digestible and utilizable nutrients that are otherwise hard to access. Meat is also a cheap product, not because of government subsidies, but because of American ingenuity in production of food over the decades. We are spoiled by this highly available, relatively inexpensive protein and vitamin/mineral product, but instead there are people who would rather spend more money on less beneficial foods which even imitate the real thing. Why on earth would you buy a vegan burger unless you actually wanted to consume meat? It's like vegan bacon - really? You want bacon (specifically a meat product) but you don't want to feel guilty about it. So instead you deprive it of its intended nutritive value, shove it full of super-processed vegetables (which most vegans also claim to hate) and then eat it like it's the real thing. Folks, all going meatless does is deprive you of good, wholesome nutrition and a great eating experience. Are there people who need less meat consumption due to severe health concerns, yes, but they often didn't get in that situation because of what they ate but rather how much they ate. Reduced intake would solve nearly everyone's problems if people just finally got honest about how much they're eating.

Of course, the meatless movement starts on just one day a week, but their end goal is meatless 365/24/7 (plus the occasional leap year). What drives this? None other but the same guilt and poor education which drives everything else. If you read it on the internet, then most people are willing to believe it's true. Rational thought no longer takes the time to evaluate facts critically, which is how CNN makes so much money reporting nothing but speculation all day long. You shouldn't let speculation on an animal's care drive your actions.

For example, this woman posted a blog about visiting an animal sanctuary. She loved it and plans to volunteer there, because she especially loved the pigs who have been saved from an unhealthy lifestyle and now laze around at a healthy size of over 1000 lbs.???? If you saw your uncle sitting on the couch, drinking a beer and watching the Packers, with a gut over the belt line and a plate full of food, would he at that point be rescued or need rescued from a healthy lifestyle? And doesn't a healthy animal lifestyle also require the breeding aspect as well? But these animals can't experience mating because the shelter realizes the truth - that without an animal food industry, there is no purpose to the pigs existence at all. And being domesticated, they can be none other than a nuisance until they die. Instead, they are locked up in a useless lifestyle, getting fat and watching birds pass until they finally die out. So much for a free, healthier lifestyle.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Giant Eagle...

...irked me last week with their new running ad. They claim that they are putting together new labels on the shelves to help customers purchase more healthy food. This will include fat, calories, etc. I'm all about this and think it is just one more way that Giant Eagle is trying to get the edge on other groceries in the area. It follows closely on the heels of their provision of free RDs available for nutrition consulting to people to help them better select food and purchases for their own good. That's all great, but they crossed the line when they said the label would contain facts about what food was healthier... including if it was 'organic'. Now, it's not just because of my research that I'm on an organic interest kick. Organic is a very interesting and misunderstood concept for grocers which I wish more people took the time to take seriously and to better explain.

First off, if your food isn't organic, you're probably poisoning yourself. Organic by definition is carbon based and has grown itself. Simply put, pretty much all food is organic. There's a few synthesized things out there which might be on the edge, but if you as an organic life form can eat it and gain nutrition from it, it's probably organic. So organic foods are totally healthy for you, but if it was this simple, why doesn't Giant Eagle just label everything in the store "organic"?

Instead, they're trying to capitalize on the next big niche market. Organic has been riding the tails of farmers markets right into the fresh produce and protein products at the grocery stores. People have these nostalgic images of organically raised chickens singing with Cinderella in the morning and the organically raised cows being milked out by an 80-year-old farmer in the five stall barn out back. This couldn't be farther from the truth! Organic animals haven't been found to have any better level of living nor are organic farms smaller than conventional farms for any reason other than reduced market demand or start-up capital.

Then there's the notion promoted by Giant Eagle that organic is a healthier form of food. As opposed to what? Recycled steel? Battery acid? Carpet fuzz? When it comes down to it, organic food is really no different than conventional food. I'm sure someone will find a way to stretch the truth and tell you that there's boosted omega-3s or reduced saturated fat, but they're just playing with the numbers to argue their point. If you want a way to change your diet, don't buy organic, buy fresh food and reduce your intake by half. It'll make so much bigger of a difference. A good way to visualize it is when we were out bike shopping. A bike shop tried to sell my friend a bike which was "faster" because it weighed 2 lbs, 10 oz. less than the $800 cheaper version. My friend's response, "I could lose 2 whole bikes off of myself by just losing some weight, why on earth would I pay for the 2 lbs to come off the bike instead?" It's an example of how big of a difference a well-balanced diet can make compared with any minuscule, unproven and imagined gain that might come from organic food.

I've got a list of links up - more to come later including a link to a fantastic article about the myth of meatless Mondays being better for the environment.

Monday, October 3, 2011

New page

Just a short FYI before I run off to our nutrient metabolism class, but I posted a new page on this blog. The page is an old paper I wrote on distillers grains usage in dairy cattle. The powerpoint was a lot more fun, but the paper should be a fun read if you have any interest. Check it out, and while you're at it, here's a couple of other nice reads.

First, the wording for the bill being worked on in Massachusetts for livestock welfare.

Second, the man who poisoned the trees at Auburn confessed. If I was his lawyer, I'd sue...